When biomass is abundant (and recyclable), life is cheap.
In the 31st century, all lifeforms are gene-mapped and alterable. Biotech is an all-purpose thaumaturgy that can terraform landscapes (and people) with the swipe of a barcode. The gene for aging has been hacked, and Dr. Frankenfurter's "Don't dream it, be it!" has infantilized the planet. Human-to-human relations have largely obsolesced, by every immortal citizen (unlawful carnal woopie has been banned, a relic of the Age of Death) being granted his own private Xanadu, a protean biomorphic rumpus room of ever-flowing wish fulfillment. A candi-colored Land of the Dead.
The Future is cuddly, and EVE is Dystopia fueled by high-fructose corn syrup, splashed in Dr. Seuss primary colors. All pleasures manufactured, copyrighted, bar coded, and utterly futile. GenieCorp, the sole remaining monopoly, has granted humanity all its wishes, resulting in a wholesale inner apocalypse. Except for Govil's creation of Eve (an illegally bred human), life seems to be extinct here on Planet X. The abolition of death only multiplies it a thousandfold, as Borges knew.
The texture of O'Brien's world seems an eerie inversion of the Flintstones (!), with dinosaur appliances replaced by gene-hacked "CreatureComforts," adorable mutant hybrids of fluffy pet and household widget: AlarmCocks, LarvaLamps, HeavenScents (skunk potpourries that squirt pine scent), and even Volksvaagenbugs (which crawl and/or fly). All are recyclable into a soupy all-purpose ectoplasm (ye olde metal-and-plastic technologies gather dust in museum basements), a spiraling eco-holocaust of fractal biomass.
O'Brien's go-getting parallel world glows with a Pixar luminescence, its flora and fauna as psychedelic as H.R. Pufnstuf.
But then there's Pentser, the wry comedian and robot panopticon (he has secretly installed pinhole-cameras throughout the precincts of the novel, allowing him to double as 1st- and 3rd-person narrator). Part Asimovian robot chum, part scheming overlord bent on world domination, Pentser is the plucky joy and fatal weakness of the novel, a gnashing mill of cognitive dissonance, achieving heights of squirrelly illogic worthy of a self-aware AI.
Pentser is programmed not to lie, but clearly *desires* to do so (human nature has piggybacked into his neural circuits), and his quirkily Napoleonic agenda to elevate Machinekind proves him a true exemplar of the occult "emotion" he claims to have no knowledge or experience of. Sexual sizzle and romantic love are a particular puzzler, even though Pentser has surely had access to the human literary and scientific canons, and could've hacked the algorithm of human mating strategies (and their biological underpinnings) like a Japanese kid solving a Rubik's Cube.
Pentser is an ascetic, assured of his own perfection, but "perfection" is indefinable, or at least, Pentser self-defeatingly defines it in crassly human terms ("power and efficiency"), and so the rise of Machinekind becomes, perversely, the neural exoskeleton of humankind colonizing its own host-organism, the tail wagging the dog. If O'Brien writes another Pentser novel, he is beholden to give an account of his robot's deeply irascible HUMANITY, in all its crass denial of true motives, its simmering core of man-made machinic libido. Pentser is a formidable liar, particularly when he's deceiving himself. Much like another well-known "omniscient intelligence," Pentser is blissfully unaware of the paradoxes that gird his toxic self-assurance (unsurprisingly, the Bible was banned in the year 2132 for "too much sex and violence"). "Truth" is a dicey human trope, and may always be an enigma to Pentser, an inheritance from "imperfect humanity."
Cynics will argue that EVE teaches us nothing new, that its secrets, passions, and puckish comic whimsy have already been charted by the wily slipstream yarns of Sturgeon, Davidson, Sheckley, Vonnegut, Rucker, Stephenson, di Filippo, Lethem, Noon, and Cory Doctorow. One might also kvetch that Eve's schmaltzy courtroom harangue on True Love and Family Values towards the end is a roundhouse kick to the gag plexus, but pat endings and stock moral-hygiene are very difficult for virgin novelists like O'Brien to resist. EVE is a tautly structured book, with tons of quirky asides (like the bioengineering of factory-farm animals whose pain receptors have been rewired into their pleasure centers, so that they enjoy being slaughtered! Take that, PETA!), but there are just as many nose-dives into corny triteness, into a breezy mock-up world of ho-hum two-dimensionality.
O'Brien seems to be aware of the cliches he's filtering through his narrative chutes and ladders. But my real problem with EVE is its exasperating lack of TACTILITY. The text often reads more like a Pixar storyboard than a vigilantly textured novel. I visually understand, for instance, what an AlarmCock "is," but telling us merely that it "crows" is an injury to its latent, embryonic nuance, a snag in the narrative fabric, to our immersion in O'Brien's imaginary world. What we're left with is cartooning, and the worst way to animate a cartoon dystopia of dead souls (the world under GenieCorp) is to employ a cartoon syntax. The more fantastical your world is, the more concrete its minutiae need be. Otherwise the whole enterprise is in danger of filtering through our system like a sugary pap of empty calories, that candy bar pop and zing followed by a quick channel flip.
The soul of Pentser is at stake. The world of Govil, Eve, Juune, Moord, Maedla, Eendth, and the rest of EVE's cast has abolished death at the expense of understanding that Meaning and Finitude are the two flip sides of a single mortal coin. Perhaps when Pentser turns his panopticon to the stars, has his fiberoptic ego shrunken by the vastness of the aeons, the Age of Death will return in all its rousing encumbrance, restore Pentser to his core humanity, to everything he denies he is.